9:00 am – 5:00 pm EDT Lehman College, City University of New York Bronx, NY
Hosted by Directions For Our Youth and Co-sponsored by the Alliance for Excellent Education
On Friday, February 22, Directions For Our Youth, Inc. (DFOY) hosted a Dropout Summit at Lehman College, City University of New York. Among the event sponsors were the Alliance for Excellent Education, America’s Promise, the Hispanic Federation and the After-School Corporation. The goals for the event were to assess progress since the Dropout Summit held in 2007 and to develop recommendations for local, state, and federal action.
Despite the city’s first significant snowfall of the year, approximately 300 people participated in the event. After an energetic performance of “Don’t Be a Dropout” by the Smith High School Step Team, a number of special guests addressed participants, including New York City Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum; New York City Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr.; Jessie Mojica, director of education for Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion Jr.; Congressman Charles B. Rangel; Alliance for Excellent Education President Bob Wise; and First Lady of New York Silda Wall Spitzer.
At the event, Gotbaum recognized that we possess the knowledge on how to help potential dropouts and that we are continuing to learn more. She also stressed that concerned stakeholders need to act on that knowledge.
For his part, Thompson stressed his dedication to the issue and the need for a citywide commitment addressing the issue of dropouts. Mojica implored attendees to work together for students who live “lives of limitation instead of possibility.”
Citing his own struggles for direction after his military service and the need for second chances, Congressman Rangel emphasized that the issue is “too important to be left to the local school board” and that “if we can find millions for the surge in Iraq,” the country can find money to help these students.
Alliance for Excellent President and former Governor of West Virginia Bob Wise thanked Rangel for his support of the Graduation Promise Act, federal legislation that would dedicate $2.4 billion to build state and local capacity to assist the nation’s lowest-performing high schools in implementing research-based reforms and student interventions. Wise also emphasized the cost of not addressing the dropout crisis and the potential economic advantage of solving it.
Spitzer expressed her belief that young people can help solve problems and turned the balance of her time over to thirteen-year old Daquan Daly, a student at New York City’s De La Salle Academy who is active in Children for Children, an organization Spitzer founded to engage students in service learning. Daly pointed out that most students decide in the eighth and/or ninth grades whether to drop out or continue with school, emphasizing the potential contributions these students can make to society and the need to make sure they have the opportunity to realize that potential.
Morning breakout panels addressed the roles of four different institutions in addressing the dropout crisis: family, community, school, and government.
Governor Wise participated in a discussion regarding on the role of government. Joining him were Gotbaum; New York State Deputy Secretary of Education Dr. Emmanuel Rivera; Greg Betheil, New York City Department of Education executive director for career and technical education; Gotham Gazette Executive Editor Gail Robinson; State Senator John Sabini; Dr. Dina Crassiati, chief of education for UNICEF; and panel moderator, New York City Councilwoman Gale Brewer. The panel discussion centered on the importance of quality teachers with effective pre-service and in-service training, the need for a robust data system to help answer critical questions about students’ paths and program effectiveness, and the need to ensure not just high school graduation, but college and work readiness.
After lunch, New York City Deputy Mayor for Education and Community Development Denis Walcott addressed attendees, citing a 20 to 25 percent increase in graduation rates since the mayor took office. He emphasized the mayor’s desire to be a “full partner” in working to address the dropout crisis and noted the mayor’s leadership in creating the Office of Multiple Pathways to help overage, undercredited students earn their high school diplomas. Intimately involved in the planning of Dropout Summit II, as well as the previous year’s summit, Walcott signaled his intention to attend as many summits as necessary in the years ahead to solve the crisis.
Due to the inclement weather, the four scheduled afternoon breakout sessions on strategies for addressing the dropout crisis were combined into two sessions: one on school, system-centered, and language-centered strategies; and another on student-centered, positive youth development strategies.
Issues raised during the first session included the question of whether parental involvement has been systematically excluded in recent city education reforms—particularly the opening and closing of schools, lack of equal access to new small schools for English language learner (ELL) students, and the overlooked success of former ELLs. It was noted that four-year graduation rates for former ELL students is 69 percent, significantly higher than that of students classified as ELL at the time of their graduation.
Emerging from this full day of powerful and impassioned information and testimony were three key recommendations—one local, one state, and one federal: to develop a New York Center for Dropout Prevention and Research, to raise the age for compulsory attendance in New York State to eighteen, and to enact the federal Graduation Promise Act, respectively.
As the individual participants in the day’s events continue to work to improve the opportunities of young people in New York City through their personal and organizational efforts, DFOY states it will also be working to coordinate support for these three critical improvements.